Chair emeritus of the college’s Board of Managers Eugene M. “Gene” Lang ’38 H’81 died early on April 8th, according to an email sent to the student body the same day by President Valerie Smith. As the namesake of the Lang Performing Arts Center, Lang Concert Hall, and the Lang Center for Civic and Social Responsibility and the philanthropist behind numerous other college-based projects, Lang’s passing marks a moment of significant transition in the college’s history.
“Gene was a giant in the world of education, a champion of the liberal arts, and an acknowledged force in promoting civic and social responsibility among students, faculty members, and educational institutions,” Smith noted in the email.
Lang was born in New York, New York and received a B.A. in economics from Swarthmore. After his experience at the college, he went on to receive an M.S. from Columbia University, and worked in a number of positions in the fields of aeronautics and engineering, eventually serving as a consultant with the Departments of State and Commerce under the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations.
Lang was known for his philanthropy far beyond the bounds of Swarthmore, supporting programs at other institutions including Eugene Lang College at the New School and the Eugene M. Lang Center for Entrepreneurship at Columbia University.
Swarthmore students know Eugene Lang best because of the numerous levels of support he has provided the college. According to Smith’s email, Lang established, matched, or made possible ten community spaces on campus, including the Eugene and Theresa Lang Performing Arts Center, the Lang Music Building, the Lang Center for Civic & Social Responsibility, and the fragrance garden named for his wife Theresa Lang, who predeceased him in 2008. He also helped to sustain the College’s academic record by endowing dozens of faculty positions and fellowships and student scholarships, most notably the Lang Opportunity Scholarship. According to the Lang Center’s website, the scholarship offers a diverse range of benefits including a $10,000 grant, a designated adviser, and networking opportunities to support the development of a project that creates a needed social resource in the U.S. or abroad.
“Through the Lang Opportunity Scholarship, Mr. Lang provided the vision, infrastructure, and resources that catalyzed my life of service. The work I have done for my Lang project has been truly empowering because it has required me to push myself to do things I did not know I was capable of,” said Raven Bennett ’17.
According to the Lang Center website, the Youth Activist Institute, Bennett’s Lang Project, aims to prevent rape by delivering consent education to high school-aged youth.
“[My Lang project] is only the beginning of my service as Mr. Lang has inspired me to imbue service and attention to justice in all that I do,” Bennett continued.
Assistant Dean for Academic Affairs Liz Derickson ’01 was also a Lang Scholar during her time as a student at the college. She stressed that she was deeply grateful for the Lang family’s contributions to Swarthmore, particularly the LOS program.
“Being a Lang Scholar was a pivotal part of my Swarthmore education, and I continue to find inspiration in learning about the remarkable work of other Lang Scholars. The experience of serving as a Lang Scholar still stands out for me as a motivating example of how rewarding it can be to work tirelessly in kinship with others toward a greater good,” Derickson said.
Derickson’s Lang Project involved continuing and expanding the college’s Learning for Life program in Spring 2000 with fellow student Susie Ansell ’02. According to its website, Learning for Life is a voluntary mutual learning program comprised of student-staff-faculty partnerships that design their own learning projects often resulting in lasting friendships. Learning for Life is a program that still exists at the college today that is open for all students and staff to join.
Director of the Lang Center and Professor of Political Science Ben Berger felt incredibly grateful to be carrying on Gene’s work alongside students, faculty, staff, alumni, and community partners at the Lang Center.
“Swarthmore has always attracted both intense intellectual inquiry and pursuit of social justice. The Lang Center united them under one roof … [and] makes Swarthmore my ideal intellectual and ethical home,” Berger said.
Berger also referenced Lang’s 1998 essay “Distinctively American: the Liberal Arts College” as a text that influenced Lang Center’s distinct focus on “Engaged Scholarship,” a practice that is focused on connecting the curriculum, campus, and community in fruitful collaboration, according to Berger.
Lang’s passing was also covered by The New York Times, The Washington Post, and the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Lang is survived by Jane Lang ’67 and Stephen Lang ’73 H’10, as well as Jane’s daughter, Jessica Lang ’92, and Stephen’s son, Noah Lang ’10. Lang is also survived by his son, David, and six other grandchildren, including Lucy Lang ’03 and Joanna Lang ’11, Ben, Dan, Grace, and Jacob, and eight great-grandchildren.